WASHINGTON - September 25 - Girls in New York’s juvenile prisons are being abused and
neglected by state authorities, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The report, Custody and Control: Conditions of Confinement in New York’s
Juvenile Prisons for Girls, provides an in-depth look at the abuses and neglect
suffered by girls confined in two remote New York juvenile facilities known as
Tryon and Lansing. The facilities are operated by the New York Office of
Children and Family Services (OCFS) and are the only two higher-security
facilities in New York State holding girls.
“New York wants to hide the fate of the girls it incarcerates,” said Mie
Lewis, the report’s author and Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the
ACLU. “The abuses have continued because the public has been kept in the
The report documents that Lansing and Tryon staff frequently restrain girls
violently, seizing them from behind and pushing them to the floor, then pulling
their arms up behind them to hold or handcuff. Although such a restraint
procedure may be appropriate in an emergency, the indications are that staff
sometimes use it to punish girls for minor acts such as improperly making their
beds or not raising their hands before speaking. Using such violent restraints
for minor infractions constitutes a disproportionate and excessive use of force.
Girls who have been restrained typically end up with “rug burns” -- abrasions on
their faces -- as well as cuts, bruises, and in rare cases, a concussion or a
Incarcerated girls may also be at risk of sexual abuse. Human Rights Watch
and the ACLU documented three cases in the past five years of staff having
intercourse with their wards. The report also reveals that some staff touch
girls in sexual ways and make sexual comments. Staff at Tryon and Lansing have
also humiliated girls by publicly commenting on their past sexual history,
sexual abuse or infection with sexually transmitted diseases.
Human Rights Watch and the ACLU are also concerned by the practice of staff
handcuffing and shackling the girls at Tryon and Lansing every time they leave
the facilities, a clear violation of OCFS’s own regulations. Girls are also
frequently and unnecessarily subjected to strip searches, verbal abuse and
Compounding the abuses in the facilities is the almost complete lack of
public information about what goes on inside. According to Human Rights Watch
and the ACLU, state watchdogs are weak and understaffed, meaning that there is
no effective body to demand accountability. Moreover, OCFS itself actively
resists public scrutiny. The agency refused to grant researchers access to its
facilities and attempted to withhold crucial non-confidential documents from
“New York says it locks these girls up for their own good, but then they end
up battered and bruised,” said Jamie Fellner, Director of the U.S. Program at
Human Rights Watch. “There’s no way staff violence against girls can help them
get their lives together, particularly when so many of the girls already have
personal histories full of violence and abuse.”
Almost 19 percent of youth entering New York’s juvenile prisons are girls yet
the facilities short-change girls by denying them access to essential
educational services. Girls complain they have long periods of time,
particularly on weekends, in which they are kept in their rooms and given
nothing constructive to do.
“Boys receive vocational education including engine repair and food
preparation courses leading to nationally recognized certifications, but girls
held in the same facility or just across the street are barred from these
classes,” said Lenora Lapidus, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “New
York is enforcing outdated gender stereotypes and young women are being denied
the chance to develop skills they need to survive in the outside world.”
The majority of girls in the Tryon and Lansing facilities are 15 or 16 years
old, although some are as young as 12. Almost 73 percent are African American or
Hispanic, and many come from poorer neighborhoods in New York City. The
information available to Human Rights Watch and the ACLU suggests that the
majority of girls who are locked up in Tryon and Lansing have suffered past
physical and sexual abuse, and that many need mental health care as well as
treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Yet New York fails to deliver adequate
mental health and treatment services to all the girls who need them, and seems
more determined to maintain a punitive environment than to provide support and
therapeutic care, said the organizations. Although the two facilities ostensibly
house girls in security classifications that range from low-security
“non-secure” to high-security “medium secure” and “secure,” the conditions are
essentially the same.
The problems identified in the report are not limited to New York alone.
Nationally more than 95,000 children are in the custody of juvenile justice
agencies - over 4,000 of them in New York. The proportion of girls among
incarcerated youth in New York has grown from 14 percent in the mid-’90s to
almost 19 percent in 2004.
Today Human Rights Watch and the ACLU called upon New York to drastically
curtail the use of the face-down “restraint” procedure and immediately revise
its restraint policies to comply with human rights norms. OCFS must also comply
with its own regulations concerning facilities oversight. In view of the
findings detailed in Custody and Control, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU
recommend that New York move urgently to ensure that conditions of confinement
for girls comply with federal and state law and international standards.
“New York must change its practices for the sake of these girls’ futures,”
Testimony from Incarcerated Girls:
Staff here do restraints and they do it bad. I been restrained two times
during my stay here and they do it to hurt you. And if you don’t get along with
that staff then they hurt you, like when I got restrained they had messed up my
face real bad, they broke someone’s arm before, busted my lip, that’s one thing
I don’t like about here. . . . I just think they shouldn’t touch us ’cause us
kids get hurt real bad.
Letter from Felicia H., who was 17 years old when
confined in Tryon. Some punctuation has been added for ease of reading.
If you’re gay they think you think you’re a man, so they restrain you harder.
They have an attitude of “If you want to be a man, I’ll restrain you like a
man.” That place [Lansing] was unstable. I was restrained 10 or 12
Testimony of Devon A., who was 15 years old when confined in
They lock us up so far from home. How are our parents supposed to come see
us? They’re not so fortunate to be able to go all the way upstate. My family
never came. It was too far. And my aunt had a little baby.
Janine Y., who was in her teens when confined in Tryon.
Custody and Control: Conditions of Confinement in New York’s Juvenile Prisons
for Girls is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/gen/custodycontrol.html